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Be Perfect

November 15th, 2017

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

The only moral standard given in the Bible is one of absolute perfection, the perfection found in God Himself.

Only the righteousness of Christ saves us from sin: Seeking to be perfect in our personal morality has never been God’s path for our salvation. At no time in salvation history do we find an era or a dispensation wherein God accepts us as righteous based merely on our personal performance. The ancients went to God through burnt offerings. From Abel on there was the understanding that only through the shedding of blood could we be saved, could we be acceptable to God. All of the sacrifices of animals pre-figured Christ, who is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

None of us is able to obey perfectly. Our problem is our old Adamic nature, the fallen nature of all humans, that drags us down. Not even the Old Testament Law made us perfect. We may know the commands of God, but we do not live by them all the time. This was God’s plan in sending Christ. We need saving and Christ is God’s Savior for us, as we read: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21 ESV). We are only acceptable through the grace of God in Christ, and not through our personal moral efforts.

Only the pure in heart see God: We would do well in this passage to examine the context and remember that Christ placed this statement in the Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes. Among them He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). The Pharisees taught that the heart did not matter, all the mattered was being outwardly obedient. “Better to watch your mouth than your heart” was their thinking. Christ reversed this thinking and said that heart is where life is lived, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person (Matt. 15:18).

So the great need we have to be holy is answered not by our personal efforts, but by our heart’s obedience first. Then God calls us to choose to obey Him.

But God still calls us to be perfect: We are given a new way to live in Christ, the way of life in the Spirit. Romans 8 is the great chapter of the Bible that explains this principle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6 KJV)

These two verses have given rise to many interpretations. I have often sat in the presence of someone seeking to make sense of this - and doing a rather poor job, I might add - by saying such things as “we just need to let go and let God” or “God will do it, we just need to get out of the way.” I suppose on some level those words could make sense, but, more often than not, they tend to lead to a lot of confusion. They suggest that we have no part in this matter, but that God will do it separately from our own choice.

Whatever we may believe about predestination, election, and the foreknowledge of God, whatever position we take in this matter - and there are many to choose from - no place does the Word of God remove from us our responsibility to choose to follow Christ. Repeatedly, the opposite is stressed in scripture, that we are to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Christ. Even the act of surrender is seen as a personal choice. Paul wrote, for example:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

There is no point to “urge” anyone to submit to God if it all happens automatically. And there is likewise no point to speak of testing and approving if all it takes is surrender. Looking back to Romans 8:6, the emphasis is on being “spiritually minded,” meaning that thought, understanding, concentration, emotions, and decisions are placed under the authority of the Spirit of God - not that they are separate from our own choice.

The 1984 NIV chose the words originally “the mind controlled by the Spirit” and later changed the wording to “the mind governed by the Spirit.” “Controlled” seemed to suggest some hypnotic state, where as “governed” put the emphasis on conscience obedience to God’s authority, a translation much truer to the original intent of the passage.

The original Greek, however, is most accurately represented by the King James which just says “spiritually minded” and does not use “controlled” or “governed” or any other word, simply because they were not there in the original. They are added for clarification.

Albert Barnes explained this phrase “spiritually minded” means:

That is, making it the object of the mind, the end and aim of the actions, to cultivate the graces of the Spirit, and to submit to his influence. To be spiritually minded is to seek those feelings and views which the Holy Spirit produces, and to follow his leadings.

I recall a young worship leader a few years ago, who would regularly stumble over these words. He would say things like, “God, I know you are going to do it, but I pray that you would make us holy.” He never could seem to balance this matter in his mind. I found out later that he had a pornography problem, and had simply not taken responsibility for his thoughts and his actions. He somehow thought that holiness would happen in his choices automatically.

Surrender is the word we should use to speak of our commitment to Christ. But once one surrenders he must then choose to obey God, and choose to live his life responsibly.

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